When did they become adults?
The ceremonies for becoming an adult member of the tribe were different for
the boys and the girls. Both took place shortly after puberty. A boy was considered
an adult at around 16 or so, a girl at around 13 or so. In either case, they took
on adult responsibilities much earlier than we do in our society.
At puberty the boy was sent out to spend some days fasting on a mountain top
and probably to receive a blessing vision from some spirit. Upon returning to
the community, he took his place among the adult men.
A girl who had her first menstruation was secluded in a menstrual lodge
some distance from the village. Her hair was bound up in rolls, and she was
only allowed to touch it with a small comb. Her face was painted red or yellow,
and she wore undecorated clothing. She was not allowed to drink directly from a
well but had to use a drinking tube, and she cleansed herself after the
flow in a sweathouse.
After a long time - one or several months - she finished her seclusion with prayers
in the evening on a hill. Then she returned to the village, a full-grown woman.
Did they always live here?
According to anthropologists, human beings first arrived in North America between 50,00 and 25,000 years ago.
Glaciers covered over half the Columbia River Plateau as recently as 12,000 years ago.
There is good evidence that people showing cultural affinities with later plateau tribes lived in the area 3,000 years ago.
What animals were there?
Because the climate was very dry, there were are not a lot of animals in the area.
There were deer and elk in the mountains and salmon and trout in the rivers.
What made the Plateau area different is that even though the land was very dry, the rivers were full and teeming with salmon and other fish.
There were a small number of buffalo in the area, but nothing like the vast herds that were on the Great Plains of Montana. The last recorded buffalo was seen in 1830.
After they began to use horses, the Plateau Indians would cross over into the Montana plains in order to hunt buffalo.
What did they look like?
Both men and women braided their hair.
The Chinook practiced flattening of the infant's head as sign of free birth.
Surprisingly the Flathead, in spite of their names, never shared this custom. One theory is that fattening of the forehead resulted in a rounded appearance of the head as seen from the front. The Flatheads, because they did not flatten the forehead, had a flat appearance when seen from the front.
What was their art like?
Like all other societies, the Plateau Indians had art - it was woven into their religion and their everyday life. They decorated their clothing, their bodies, the everyday objects like baskets and bowls.
Anthropologists say that there was little that separated Plateau Indian art from the art of their neighbors. Instead it seemed to be derived for the most part from their neighbors. Thus there was a western branch of Plateau Indian art which was influenced by the Northwest Coast culture, and there was an eastern branch of Plateau Art which was influenced by the Plains Indians culture.
Plastic arts, like carvings, sculpture and totem poles were rare, except in the vicinity of the Northwest Coast. Decorative art consisted of pictographic designs with a symbolic content, referring to supernatural beings and cosmic things.
Musicals styles, like artistic styles, were also divided between the Northwest Coast and the Plains Indians styles.
What was 'to buffalo'?
The horse gave the Plateau Indians much greater mobility. They could travel the hundreds of miles to the Montana plains to the range of buffalo. The horses also gave the Indians the speed to hunt the buffalo. And with the influence of the Plains Indian culture, buffalo products and buffalo hides were more important than before.
Although there were a few small herds of buffalo in the Palouse region of Southeast Washington, the last bufalo here was killed somewhere around 1830. (That is, shortly after the coming of the horse.)
There remained huge herds of buffalo in the plains of Western Montana. This had been Salishan country until the Blackfoot Indians forced the Flathead and Kutenai had to withdraw from this area around 1800.
Following traditional mountain paths, the Lolo trail, the Flathead made annual buffalo hunts on the Plains in the company of other Plateau tribes, such as the Coeur d'Alene and Nez Percé, and Spokanes. This was called 'to buffalo'.
These hunts were both dangerous and important.
The hunts were dangerous because the Blackfeet would kill the Salishan if they had the opportunity. And there were many more Blackfoot hunting parties on the Plains than there were Plateau Indians.
The hunts were important because they provided the meat and skins of the buffalo, and because they were a dangerous annual tradition in which an individual could prove their courage.
What was the role of the chief?
Although there were chiefs in all Plateau Cultures, they did not havemuch real power. Chiefs were prominent in the village and in most cases their position was hereditary.
But although Sahaptin chiefs could exert their authority through whipping (perhaps a Spanish trait), social control was as a rule achieved through social pressure and public opinion. There was no police force or military force to control the people.
No one was forced into following the advice of a chief or the decisions of a council meeting.
Those who did not want to conform could move to another village or another band.
What was birth and childhood like?
In Plateau society, the life of a person was marked by ritual acts that opened the gateway to the ifferent social roles he had to enact. From baby to child, from child to adult. Some rituals even began before a person was born.
Among the Sinkaietk, for example, a pregnant woman was not supposed to give birth to her child in her regular home but in a menstrual lodge or another separate lodge.
The newborn baby spent its day strapped in a cradle of the flat board type. At the age of one the child was ceremonially conferred a name from the wealth of names in the family.
The training of the child was left to the mother and grandmother, but even as a small boy a Sinkaietk could accompany his father on fishing and small-game hunting trips, while the little girls helped their mothers about the house and gathered roots in the fields.
Grandparents saw to it that the child was hardened by such practices as bathing in cold streams.
Disobedience was rare but could sometimes result in the child being whipped.
What is the classic culture?
By 800 years ago, the Indians living in this area, had a clear and common pattern of living.
In the winter, they lived in permanent winter villages among the main rivers. Their houses were long and partly buried in the ground. In the summer, they lived in camps with mat-covered conical lodges on the meadows.
This is called the "Classic Plateau Culture". It was distinct and it did not change much over time, and it was common throughout the whole area.
The Indians living here did not have horses at this time. There were no horses in the New World at this time. The Spanish brought horses over to the America later, less than 500 years ago.
Where did they come from?
No one knows where the Plateau Indians came from when they first came into this area.Some scientists think that the Plateau Indians came up from the South. According to this view, they came from the desert Basin Culture of dry Western North America, a primitive, seed-gathering culture
Other scientists think that the Plateau Indians came in from the Coast - either up theColumbia Gorge or over through the passes of the Cascade mountains. According to this theory, they came from the "old Cordilleran culture" of the Plateau and North Pacific Coast, a culture with hunting, fishing, and gathering activities.
What were the dark years?
In her book, They Walked Before: The Indians of Washington State, the Nisqually historian Cecelia Svinth Carpenter speaks of the period from 1860 to 1930 as the Dark Years for Indian People.
Settlers came in large numbers into the Plateau Region to farm and to live. They forced the Indian off the land they had occupied for centuries.
Indians from different tribes were crowded on to centralized reservations and lost their sense of tribal identity.
Alcohol and disease took a terrible toll on individuals and families of the Native Americans.
Smallpox epidemics killed many people.
The natural resources that Native Americans had depended upon for thousands of years were destroyed
Indian men who had fought in the Indian Wars were labeled as murderers and were killed.
The Indian Agent, the federal overseer of the reservations, was able to take over and institute rules and regulations over the people under his protection.
There was a conscious attempt to deprive the Indian of their language and culture.
English names were assigned to Native Americans
Old villages and burial grounds that were not on reservations were often destroyed through landscaping and in the building of new homes.
Indians suffered from prejudice and racism from the ruling white society.
What were their burial practices?
Two forms of burial predominated in the Plateau area, pit burials and rockslide burials.
Pit burials took place in sand or gravel near the river banks and were often marked with piles of boulders. The rockslide burials were also located close to the river huts, with a cedar stake used as a marker. Also some cremation burials occurred in the Yakima Valley and at The Dalles and also in the Lillooet-Thompson area.
The wife and close relatives of the dead person had to follow certain taboos - that is, there were certain things that they couldn't do. A widow was supposed to dress poorly and wail at the grave, sometimes for as long a period as a year.
There are reports that the house where the death occurred was torn down so that the dead person would not reappear there.
What were the epidemics?
When European colonized the Americas, they did have superior military technology, and they did have a much greater number of people. But perhaps the greatest factor in the relatively sudden overcoming of the native people by the Europeans was due to diseases introduced into the area by the Europeans.
Native Americans had no resistance to diseases that had been ravaging Europe for centuries. So not only smallpox, but also measles, syphilis, and influenza, were often fatal to the Native peoples. Whole villages were wiped out. When Lewis and Clark first traveled down the Columbia in 1805, they saw many villages completely abandoned.
A large percentage of the population died. This demoralized native people and made it less possible for them to resist the invasion by European settlers.
The death rate of Indians was so great in the 19th century, that most people, both Indian and European, believed that soon all Native Americans would vanish from the land.
This was an extremely dark period for Native Americans.
1600-1800 : changes from the Plains Indians
After 1700 the main influences on the Plateau Indian Culture came the Plains Indians living East of the Rocky Mountains.
The Indians started using horses. It is estimated that horses first arrived in the Palouse in 1730. Horses were brought to America by the Spanish settlements in Mexico, and their use migrated Northwards among the Indian tribes in the West and mid-West Plains. The Plateau Indians probably first received horses from Shoshone Indians in the central Idaho region.
Early Europeans, who began to visit the region in the early 1800s, wrote that tribes such as the Nez Percé, Cayuse, Wallawalla, and Flathead had many horses. They had more horses than the tribes of the northern Plains.
The horse, like the car in the last century, had a deep effect on Plateau Indian Culture.
What do we know of their early history?
We do not know very much about the earliest history of the Plateau culture. We know that 3000 years ago, the Indians who then lived in the Plateau had a culture,a way of life that extended through the seasons for many generations, based on hunting, fishing and gathering activities.
What kind of families did they have?
For the most part, Plateau Indians had families similar to the ones we see today. The children saw themselves as members of a small family group consisting of a man and a woman. And like today, the average Plateau kinship group consisted of the nuclear family and the closest relatives on both the father's and the mother's side.
But unlike our society, all over the Plateau, it was permitted that a man could have more than one wife (polygamy). But this was not common.
These family ties are shown in the words used to designate family members. There was a connection between family relatives of the same generation on both the father's and the mother's side. All female cousins were called by the same terms as those used for sisters.
Marriages did not occur among first cousins (in distinction to the custom in clan organized Indian societies). Newly wedded couples could live either with the father's or the mother's group.
The Tenino show a patterned kinship behavior that has possibly existed in other Plateau groups, such as a "joking relationship" between a father's sister's husband and his wife's brother's child, and permitted sexual license between a man and his sister-in-law.